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'We Are Still In The Middle Of A Pandemic': Tennis Players, Fans Adjust To Western & Southern COVID Protocols

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Ann Thompson
Look closely, and you will see players and their trainers hanging out and conditioning on the Player Patio. The tournament has moved workout equipment out here for better ventilation and eliminated the Fan Zone.

The Mason tennis tournament has hired an Infection Control Officer for the first time.

One of the first things fans at the Western & Southern Open will notice this year is they don’t have close access to the players because of COVID-19. The Fan Zone has been replaced with an outdoor workout area complete with stationary bikes, basketball hoops and massage tables.

But players and fans are glad to be back in Mason after the tournament was moved to New York last year. This was so players could stay in their bubble in preparation for the U.S. Open.

Western & Southern officials are mindful of all the tour COVID protocols, including the requirement that people in player bubbles be tested for the virus every two to three days. In addition, the local tournament has hired an infection control officer. In that role, UC Health’s Laura Schuster oversees testing, vaccination and cleaning.

One challenge is the dining room. “For example, we want to make sure that we provide them a dining area that is safe for them to have their meals. So we had to redesign the spaces to allow for social distancing, even the way they get their food,” she says.

In the locker room, Western & Southern staff wipe down everything after each use.

COO Katie Haas has taken an additional step. “We made a concerted effort so any staff, volunteers, vendors going into those areas, we required that they had to be vaccinated.”

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Ann Thompson
The Western & Southern Open is back in Mason after it moved to New York last year becauce of COVID.

Haas also instituted digital ticketing and a cashless food court. She is not requiring fans to wear masks.

The players notice the additional steps to keep them healthy. “I don’t feel afraid because I am vaccinated," Simona Halep says. "I feel protected. I am taking care. I wear the mask when many people are around.”

She is anxious while still in a bubble and encourages others to get vaccinated to eliminate restrictions.

Andy Murray can’t wait for crowds to get back to normal size across the U.S. but, “We are still in the middle of a pandemic and things are certainly not perfect in large parts of this country so it’s a bit of an odd feeling, I guess.”

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.